Waiting For Superman

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JIM CURRAN
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by JIM CURRAN » Fri Nov 05, 2010 6:34 pm

Excellent piece by Diane Ravitch on the Charter School movement. Well worth a read.



The Myth of Charter Schools
November 11, 2010
Diane Ravitch
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archive ... ls/?page=1

kenm
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by kenm » Fri Nov 05, 2010 9:07 pm

The Tea Party members of the House and the Senate will be working enthusiastically to prevent Obama from moving the U.S. any further in the direction of Finnish civilization, as represented by a nationalized health care system, including free services for the poor, with a small private system alongside it, and by maternity and child welfare clinics providing free pre- and post-natal support for all parents, until their offspring are 18.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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palisadesk
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by palisadesk » Fri Nov 05, 2010 9:47 pm

A thoughtful reflection on Waiting For Superman was posted by the blogger at Research Into Practice (mostly a math blog) here:

http://researchinpractice.wordpress.com ... stuporman/

It's lengthy but worth a read.

Susan S.

yvonne meyer
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Fri Nov 05, 2010 11:06 pm

I don't think either side of this debate have the right idea. The support for charter schools, like the previously endorsed voucher system, is based on the assumption if there is choice, consumers will find the 'cream' that rises. The problems with this theory when it is applied to schools are firstly that uninformed choice is no real choice at all. As the Fordham publications on charters & choice ( schoolshttp://www.edexcellence.net/issues/index.cfm?topic=4) demonstrate, consumers are just as likely to land in a bad charter school as they are in a bad public school. In Australia, where 40% of students attend an 'independant' (private) school, consumers are just as likely in land in a bad private school.

And as the LA Times, "Grading the Teachers" database informs us, our system has individual teachers who are anything from highly effective to least effective in the same school.

Before we can have consumer choice, we have to have reliable information. This means good testing regimes that are reported transparently. So far, this is not happening in the USA, UK or Australia.

Secondly, all teachers get the same training and until there is 'choice' in teacher training with reliable information for the consumer on which Ed School is providing the most effective instruction, then allowing parents to choose a school is applying the element of choice too far down the track.

Trying to reform schools with efforts like school choice just gets everyone, including Diane Ravich, off the rails. Provide teachers with adequate, evidence-based training, implement good tests of basic skills that accurately measure student progress, report this information transparently, and last and least, allow parents to 'choose' the school for their child based on meaningful information.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Fri Nov 05, 2010 11:20 pm

KenM,

With respect, why do you think schools will improve if a country embraces the Finnish system of high tax/high welfare and not, say, the Singapore system of low tax/low welfare?

I'm suspicious of the PISA results but assume, for arguments sake, that both Finland and Singapore have equally effective schools. Considering how vastly different their tax/welfare systems are, could this not be irrelevant when it comes to schooling and, if so, what is it that Finland and Singapore have in common that may be the real cause of good outcomes?

I think the answer lies more with teacher training which, from the little information I currently have, is more evidence-based than philosophy-based in both those countries.

I also think that the Singpore education system is currently being infected with the 'constructivist' philosophy; the infection mainly caught from visiting Australian constructivist philosophers. It will be interesting to see if, over time, the infection takes hold and destroys a good system.

g.carter
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by g.carter » Fri Nov 05, 2010 11:40 pm

Yvonne writes:
Before we can have consumer choice, we have to have reliable information. This means good testing regimes that are reported transparently. So far, this is not happening in the USA, UK or Australia.
This is what I have been banging on about - but I seem to be a voice crying in the wilderness. This, and transparency of teacher training, are absolutely of the essence and we are ignoring this.

chew8
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by chew8 » Sat Nov 06, 2010 10:42 am

I don't think that the UK is ignoring either testing or teacher-training.

Re. testing: we have a government which is proposing to introduce a Year 1 decoding test.

Re. teacher-training: I think that suitable directives have been issued to teacher-training institutions, though unfortunately many teacher-trainers prefer to go on doing things their own way.

Jenny C.

kenm
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by kenm » Sat Nov 06, 2010 11:53 am

yvonne meyer wrote:With respect, why do you think schools will improve if a country embraces the Finnish system of high tax/high welfare and not, say, the Singapore system of low tax/low welfare?
I don't expect it to make any difference to the schools, but to the pre-school upbringing of the children.
I'm suspicious of the PISA results but assume, for arguments sake, that both Finland and Singapore have equally effective schools. Considering how vastly different their tax/welfare systems are, could this not be irrelevant when it comes to schooling and, if so, what is it that Finland and Singapore have in common that may be the real cause of good outcomes?
Two quotes from Diane Ravitch:
... a central thesis in today’s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.
It bears mentioning that nations with high-performing school systems—whether Korea, Singapore, Finland, or Japan—have succeeded not by privatizing their schools or closing those with low scores, but by strengthening the education profession. They also have less poverty than we do. Fewer than 5 percent of children in Finland live in poverty, as compared to 20 percent in the United States. Those who insist that poverty doesn’t matter, that only teachers matter, prefer to ignore such contrasts.
and a reminder of the findings from Hart and Risley, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children:
Hart and Risley’s Three Key Findings:

1. The variation in children’s IQs and language abilities is relative to the amount parents speak to their children.

2. Children’s academic successes at ages nine and ten are attributable to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age three.

3. Parents of advanced children talk significantly more to their children than parents of children who are not as advanced.
Many of the citizens of Singapore are of Chinese origin, and have a tradition of respect for learning; in this context, the important aspect of Finnish social care is the support for parents, notably their circa-natal instruction in parenting. Note, also, the low poverty in both countries. IMO, these produce the most important similarity between the two societies and their essential difference from the US.
yvonne meyer wrote:I think the answer lies more with teacher training which, from the little information I currently have, is more evidence-based than philosophy-based in both those countries.
That would be a positive contribution, of course, and is likely to arrive sooner in the US than Finnish-style intervention by either state or federal government.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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palisadesk
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by palisadesk » Sat Nov 06, 2010 8:02 pm

Teacher training is certainly an issue, but it is not true that "all teachers get the same training. " Many programs (certainly in the U.S., where undergraduate students with poor academic skills can major in "education" and graduate with a teaching certificate and minimal skills in basic language and math) are superficial, lacking in academic rigour, and focused more on philosophy and ideology than on practical issues of pedagogy.

But the range of programs and training is very broad. Some teacher preparation programs focus heavily on empirically-proven teaching methods, cognitive science, assessment and instructional design, behaviour management and other critical components of effective classroom teaching. Those programs are not in the majority but they do exist.

Part of the problem (in the U.S., anyway) is one of supply and demand. The turnover of public school teachers in the neediest areas and the most underperforming states is very high -- in some places, 50% of new teachers quit within 3-4 years. Working conditions can be horrific, and salaries sufficiently low that the teacher's family qualifies for food stamps and subsidized state medical care for poor children (like Walmart workers' families do). Other districts, like most in the New England states and Middle Atlantic region, pay very high wages, have intense competition for new hires, and attract a much better-educated workforce. The sheer number of public school teachers required precludes the possibility that all are going to come from the top tier of college graduates. The system must be geared to enable average teachers, of good will and commitment to students, to be successful. Currently, it is not structured that way (a whole different discussion, but an interesting topic on its own).

Testing is another important, but poorly understood, component of ensuring good results for students. Both "authentic assessments" of the UK SATS type (and many of the U.S. NCLB-mandated state assessments, which also depend largely on essay-type answers and scoring by a rubric according to "levels") and the more familiar norm-referenced, multiple-choice tests have both strengths and weaknesses that are poorly understood by most people discussing education issues. They have value but cannot stand alone in measuring student learning in class or teacher effectiveness in precipitating that learning. As I have graduate training in this field, I have some expertise here and a great deal of respect for educational testing and its value; however, we have not yet arrived at the point where a student's progress in a particular class can be reliably and validly evaluated exclusively through a standardized metric. Perhaps we will get to that point, but we are not there now.

The kind of data needed to evaluate school effectiveness is a broader set: beyond test scores, it should include further data on subsequent academic achievement of students, graduation rates, post-secondary accomplishments, other relevant achievements. With today's data management systems, these could be tracked and made public (without identifying individuals). Let's say a particular K-8 school in a low-income area had middling scores on standardized tests, but longitudinal data showed a high percentage of its graduates getting secondary school diplomas and a respectable number completing an Associates or Bachelors degree -- that would be a better indication of the school's quality than test scores alone. Data show that students often are set on the "college track" or not by the end of fifth grade. A strong achievement climate in elementary school is key, but the scores alone might well not indicate this. You need to take a wider view.

As to the success of Finland and Singapore -- they are certainly very different cultures. Finland has almost no racial diversity (it does have several language groups), and the low rate of poverty is almost certainly an important factor. Singapore is highly diverse, very different in culture and values to most Western countries, and probably whatever makes it work is not replicable here. The fact that Canadian students as a group do so much better than comparable students in the UK or USA is intriguing. The findings are consistent, across subjects (math, literacy, science) and income groups. Possibly, the lower rate of extreme poverty, ready availability in most cases of good medical care and adequate housing, plays a role. There are also many supports for families through public services and community agencies. Even though the school system is much more "whole language" and "constructivist" than either the UK or USA, achievement overall *is* higher.

I don't have a good explanation for this. In September, while we were reorganizing classes because of a larger intake than expected, I was asked to test many Grade 8 students who were considered to be "at risk" because of poor reading skills. I expected to find a number who were poor or weak decoders, but I didn't find a single one. Of about 15 kids in four different classes, every one was a fluent decoder, with real and nonsense words, including polysyllabic ones. They sometimes mispronounced words like "bioluminescent" by accenting the wrong syllable, but were not making decoding errors. I was surprised. Somehow, despite the lack of decoding skills in the curriculum, they had mastered the correspondences and how to use them. Other reading skills challenged them, but not the code.

The system here seems to be a bit more forgiving of slower starters than the US system. We don't have rigid tracks or "streams" until late in secondary school, and even then there is room for changing courses and levels. I've been surprised to find numerous examples of former students who were poor or non-readers right into middle school who made good progress and went on to high school and continued to progress and catch up, then go on to college or university. In the USA district where I grew up this would be next to impossible. Students entered an Honors, Academic or General track after sixth grade, sometimes in all subjects, but almost always in math, languages and English. Those in the lower tracks rarely moved up and this is still the case in many US districts.

Changing the "system" is a tall order, and single-issue movements like charters schools (or not), publicizing test scores (or not), and so on, rarely get at the fundamental structural problems inherent in the system.

Susan S.

yvonne meyer
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Sat Nov 06, 2010 10:48 pm

There is nothing said in the posts above that I disagree with but I think we can zero in a bit further on some of these issues.

For example, in some very high performing countries, class sizes are large, ie, 40-50:1. While Australian teachers shudder at the thought of having to teach so many at once, there are advantages of these large class sizes.

Firstly, fewer teachers are needed. In Australia, it is possible to fail Years 10, 11 & 12, achieve a zero TER (University entrance score), and still enroll at an Ed School for a 4-year Bachelor of Education degree. These degree mills do not offer remedial courses for their students and, of course, no-one fails, so students who are undoubtably semi-literate & semi-numerate (at best) are 'qualified' to be teachers. The justification for this is that we need so many teachers and it is better to have a warm body in the classroom than not. Also, the Ed Schools are funded to accept x number of students and rather then set a minimum standard and return the funding if they can't find students who meet the standard, they will scrape the bottom of the barrel with no thought of the consequences for kids further down the track.

If these Ed Schools accepted low to zero TER score students and then provided remedial classes in literacy & numeracy to bring their skills up, and taught them how to teach reading, writing and maths effectively, I would not be concerned. The problem is that not only are these students allowed float along without improving their own skills, they are then immersed in the constructivist philosophy which means they are totally incapable of teaching anything effectively when they get into a classroom, thereby creating more semi-literate students who are unemployable in any field except teaching.

Large class sizes mean there's no chance to muck around with child-centred, constructivist, activity-based, self-directed learning. Teachers have to use direct, explicit, teacher-directed instruction and focus on basic skills. Teacher-directed instruction also requires a 'road-map' curriculum, unlike our current 'fuzzy, make it up as you along' curriculum. Having a 'road-map' curriculum which focuses on basic skills means that testing is much more straightforward.

Teacher-directed instruction also means more discipline in the classroom.

Middle-class kids who arrive at school with good language skills and have parents who monitor their education and fill in the gaps in basic skills as they arise, flourish in the child-centred system. Disadvantaged kids, who arrive behind the 8-ball, fall further behind.

Child-centred schooling with its lack of focus on basic skills, classroom discipline and lack of objective testing is neutral for middle-class kids, but is a disaster for disadvantaged kids.

Of course, we also have highly competant teachers who have degrees in subjects like History who teach these subjects in high-level classes, like the IB, in Years 11 & 12. Unfortunately, most of our students, especially disadvantaged students, never get to this level to get the benefit of instruction from these teachers. My son has just completed the IB Diploma (exam week at the moment) and he has had some really wonderful teachers. It just been such a long haul to get to Year 11 and if I hadn't intervened countless times between Years 1 and 10, and paid heaps for private tutoring on top of private school fees, he would never have gotten to this level to get access to these great teachers.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by JIM CURRAN » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:30 pm

The situation you describe in Australia Yvonne, concerning the entrance requirements or rather lack of entrance requirements for Teacher Training college is truly scandalous. We know that in countries like Finland only the top 10% of graduates get on to teacher training courses. You can’t imagine a young Australian doctor complaining that he couldn’t get on to a teacher training course so he had to do medicine as a second best.

In Northern Ireland, where I live, students need three good A levels to gain entry to any of our teacher training colleges. What goes on when they get there is more of a problem.

I’m not so sure about the issue of class size Yvonne. I feel that the jury is still out on that one.

7 Class size myths -- and the truth

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer ... d-the.html

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palisadesk
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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by palisadesk » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:44 pm

yvonne meyer wrote:For example, in some very high performing countries, class sizes are large, ie, 40-50:1.
Yes, we're one of those "high performing" countries, and while primary grades (k-3) are capped at an average of 20-25 students, in grades 4 and up we do have classess of 40-50:1 (no TAs or ed assistants). This year my school had 4 classes in the junior or intermediate grades with over 40 students and many more with class sizes between 35-40.

Large class sizes mean there's no chance to muck around with child-centred, constructivist, activity-based, self-directed learning. Teachers have to use direct, explicit, teacher-directed instruction and focus on basic skills. Teacher-directed instruction also requires a 'road-map' curriculum, unlike our current 'fuzzy, make it up as you along' curriculum. Having a 'road-map' curriculum which focuses on basic skills means that testing is much more straightforward.
Unfortunately, the above is merely wishful thinking. Large class sizes, coupled with full inclusion, mean that the students' skills and abilities in every grade span a range of 5-10 YEARS. You can have teacher-directed instruction, all right (and we do): shared reading, shared writing, read-alouds with discussion on strategies, "making connections" and the like. But specific, explicit, sequential skill instruction in "the basics?" Not a chance. One class I spent time in had students ranging from a second grade to tenth grade level in math and literacy. The only way to deal with diversity of this sort is by grouping the students. In a lesson on place value, for instance, one group was working on two-digit numbers with regrouping, while another was doing place value and regrouping to the hundreds of thousands. The teacher would circulate, keep kids on task, provide prompts and corrective feedback. But "whole class explicit instruction in basic skills" in such a milieu is impossible, even if it were permitted (which it isn't).

Our curriculum is certainly a "road map" curriculum but minus the basic skills components. It focuses on "higher level thinking" and eschews basic skills (which are believed to be developed in some mysterious intuitive way). We have curriculum police and inspectors who come around with clipboards, cameras and checklists and make sure teachers are complying with the requirements, including minimal use of textbooks or worksheets and maximum use of student-generated problems, personal writing, self-selected reading and so on. Even if teachers were thoroughly trained in Direct Instruction or SP they would not be permitted to use these methods.

So, large class sizes in no way guarantee explicit, sequential instruction in the basics. In fact they militate against this by including so many students who cannot possibly work at an age-appropriate level on such skills. Furthermore, empirical findings are conclusive that very challenged students will progress only in small instructional groups (5 or fewer), as pointed out by Engelmann, Ruth Miskin, Vellutino and many others. You can't do Direct Instruction programs, for example, in a large group. High-performing students -- of whom we have few in remedial settings -- can be grouped in larger groups, but nothing like 40-50.

Teacher-directed instruction also means more discipline in the classroom.
Again, no. Discipline in the classroom is a function of several factors. One is teacher skill in behaviour management, but that also operates within parameters set by school and district discipline policies which teachers must adhere to. They may not be permited (for instance) to send students out of class, keep them in at lunch or recess, give detentions, etc., depending on local policies. They may have students with severe mental health issues, behaviour disorders, or autism who are prone to tantrums, meltdowns or even violence (throwing chairs, biting, kicking). In the case of actual violence, most teachers can call administration to intervene -- but -- I know this from experience -- there may not be any response for ten, fifteen, thirty minutes. In such a case the teacher must evacuate the class and leave the raging student alone in the room until authorities come to deal with the problem. Much teaching time is lost this way. If the needy students had appropriate small-group instruction, their disruptiveness would be much diminished and the learning opportunities for other students increased.

On the teacher qualification side, raising the bar is a necessary (but not sufficient) step. Teacher qualifications here are much higher than what you describe in Australia. Only honour students with a BA in an academic subject can get into a faculty of education, many more applicants apply than are accepted, and the job openings for those who complete their training are few and far between. The level of education of teachers here vastly exceeds that in some parts of the U.S. but does not quite match that in Finland. The system is taking ongoing teacher professional development seriously; alas for those "instructivists" among us, it is further training in exclusively constructivist theories and practices.

The days when teachers could close their doors and "do their own thing" (for better or worse) are gone in this area. You cannot get away with evading the Ministry and district requirements, practices and curriculum expectations.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:20 pm

Singapore is the system I am most familiar with, having grown up there and gone to school there during the 60's. The system then (I don't believe it has changed much) was that in primary school, students were streamed into one of 4 ability-based classes. End of year exams determined which class you were placed in for the following year. If you failed the Year 6 exam, even by one point, you repeated the year. If you failed again, that was the end of your formal schooling.

There was no 'remedial' work. In primary, if you failed your exam, you were placed in a lower level class the following year. If you were not able to pass the Year 6 exam after 2 tries, you didn't go to secondary school.

Secondary school is 4 years and students are streamed into academic or non-academic courses. (From memory, I believe Finland streams at secondary but not primary years.) Years 11 & 12 are seperate from secondary and are called Pre-University.

Discipline, even for the youngest children, was harsh. However, the only requirement for discipline was when a student didn't complete their work (in my case, constantly daydreaming). Because we sat in rows facing the teacher with everyone doing the same work, there was none of the kids free-ranging around the classroom, bothering other kids and the teacher, and constant negotiation between students, teacher, teacher aid, and parent volunteer that went on in my son's primary classroom.

I'm not saying that Singapore has the perfect system. Far from it. And the Australian system, for all its faults, still managers to produce world class business people, scientists and academics and artists. One of the things that both the Singapore and Australian system have in common is that they leave the most disadvantaged behind, although they achieve this by very different means. In Singapore, if you can't keep up they boot you out. In Australia, if you can't keep up, they let you drift along ad infinitum, without learning anything.

The other main difference is in cost. In Australia, our education system does not deliver the 'bangs for the bucks' and the more money we pour into education, the smaller the return. Suggesting that cost should be an issue is not a popular suggestion with the general population but most people don't realise that so much money put into education is wasted on things that don't work (like Reading Recovery) or go is syphoned off well before it gets to the classroom.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by yvonne meyer » Sun Nov 07, 2010 11:02 pm

Another point about our Ed Schools and the low-zero TER students they enroll for their B.Ed. degree is that these students do not find it easy to get jobs in schools once they graduate. High-peforming schools in 'nice' areas won't hire them and they often end up in our lowest performing schools in our least pleasant areas. Having the least able teachers teaching the most disadvantaged students generally means that these teachers get chewed up and spat out after a short time. This 'turn-over' of teachers justifies the Ed Schools continueing their large, bottom of the barrel, enrollment policies.

The teacher shortage/over-supply in Australia is highly misunderstood. We have a dearth of teachers who know how to teach beginning reading and teachers who can demonstrate rudimentary knowledge of effective beginning reading strategies are snapped up by schools. We also have a dearth of high-level maths & science teachers. We have an over-supply of everything else which means that, often, an indivudual who dropped maths in Year 10 and achieved a low TER score in their other 'soft' subjects ends up teaching Years 11 & 12 maths in a disadvantaged school.

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Re: Waiting For Superman

Post by JIM CURRAN » Mon Nov 08, 2010 12:30 pm

Yvonne, what happened to those children who failed the year six exam and the resit? Did they just remain in year six until school leaving age? Did many children fail?

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